Tom Bigby: The man that made 97.1 The Ticket

The first shows were rough.

Mike Valenti and I talked over one another. Sometimes you didn’t know what either one of us were saying because we both wanted to be the Alpha dog. But that is not the way radio works.

Somebody must drive the show and be the lead dog. The other person must be the straight man or take a lesser role. I needed to learn how to be second fiddle. A consultant was hired.

He was not from Detroit and did not understand me, Mike or Detroit sports. Management wanted The Sports Inferno to work. So we talked to this consultant and the shirts and ties four or five times a week to iron out the wrinkles.

Here is what they told us.

They wanted Mike and me to be nicer to each other. They wanted to turn Valenti into this angelic on air figure filled with sugar and spice. They wanted him to be more Dick Purtan than Dick.

One day the station held a cook out. Over lunch of burgers and hot dogs Mike and I talked about the show.

“Mike, don’t listen to these people,” I said to him. “They do not know what they are talking about. We will figure it out.”

A few weeks later an oddly shaped overweight man sat in front of us to give the station and our show a new direction. He spoke with a Texas twang. His name was Tom Bigby and he was our new consultant. He reminded me of a Felix the Cat antagonist called The Master Cylinder, an evil cyborg that made everybody’s life more difficult.

He spoke with a firm voice, but he never raised it. He changed how we thought about sports radio. He promised that both the station and our show would fail if we just talked sports and tried to pound mindless information on the air.

“If you just talk sports you will get a two share and be out of a job within two years,” he promised.

We needed to stop thinking about being the top sports show in our time slot. We needed to be the top show period. Second place was not an option. I told Mike that we should listen to this guy.

He wanted open lines and more phone calls. He told us that having a bunch of guests were rating killers unless they were newsmakers — somebody who did something recently that would warrant a story in the Detroit News or Free Press.

Play the hits. Talk Detroit Lions. Do not try to break down the Red Wings or the Pistons.

More importantly he wanted Mike and me to be ourselves.

“You guys are not warm and cuddly,” he said. “Mike’s a dick and you can be an asshole too. So be that. I don’t want listeners to like you every day. I want you to entertain them.”

I liked him but didn’t like him at the same time. It was a twisted dynamic I had with Bigby for the several years he acted as consultant and program director. The big man that made 97.1 what it is today died recently at age 77 of a heart condition.

I shed no tears upon hearing the news but it is still bad news. After my health scare a few years ago Bigby reached out more frequently than any other manager at the station even though he no longer worked for 97.1 or even lived in Detroit.

Even when he tore you apart he did it with a twinkle in his eye and often with a smile. He was the toughest boss I ever had. But he made everybody better.

Our ratings sky rocketed, but it didn’t come without protests from hard core sports fans who wanted you to break down last night’s game and only talk sports.

“Fuck them,” he said once. “Did they ever program a station in Philadelphia? Did they ever program one in Detroit? Do not listen to them or you will be in the streets without a job.”

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Published by terryfoster8

I am a 58 year old retired sports journalist, husband and father of two living outside of Detroit in search of his next big adventure in life.

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